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Florida Sober Houses in the Crosshairs

Delray Beach officials are renewing their efforts to regulate what they see as a Wild West environment of sober-living homes.

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By Hunter R. Slaton

10/31/12

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A new push by the Delray Beach City Commission to regulate the city's large number of current—and future—sober-living houses is underway in the "Recovery Capital of America." The lobbying effort, led by Vice-Mayor Tom Carney, seeks to define just what a "sober house" and a "transitional living home" are, and also make it necessary for the Department of Children and Families to license them. Carney told the Orlando Sun Sentinel, "We want to make sure that those who are profiting from the recovery business are at least delivering on their promise." The worry is that it's too easy for just anyone to open up a so-called sober house, which has led to poor conditions and no oversight in some such facilities.

But some detect a less virtuous agenda: namely, to placate residents who subscribe to a "not in my backyard" view of these intermittently controversial recovery-industry businesses. For instance, another part of the legislation that Carney intends to push in the Florida state capital of Tallahassee would require sober-living houses to prove that they are at least 1,000 feet away from other such facilities. The city has already taken steps to do just that, passing ordinances—in response to news that the Caron Foundation planned to open a sober-living home in a beach mansion here—designed to prevent sober houses from operating in residential neighborhoods, along with other occupancy and permit restrictions. But in May, a federal judge put a halt to those ordinances, saying that Delray Beach may have "unlawfully discriminated" against people in recovery. According to city commissioner Adam Frankel, that's not the case—rather, it's just common-sense rules. He asks, "If hospitals and nursing homes are regulated, why not sober houses?"

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